Middle East Authoritarianism After Iraq

I will quote here from the weblog of Professor R.J. Rummel whose writings are interesting, informative and reliable as I find them.

Middle East Authoritarianism IS Getting Better—Look At The Data

By R.J. Rummel

I have been pointing out that the invasion of Iraq, the struggle for democracy there, and the democratic election of a national government was having a pro-democratic impact on other Middle Eastern Muslim countries. Since my view was at sharp variance from what some realists and other foreign policy experts have been saying, I decided to test this.

I used Freedom House ratings, 1973-2005 (see below the map on the page), and tracked the year-by-year change in ratings for Muslim Middle Eastern (ME) countries. These ratings are on civil liberties (CL) and political rights (PR), and vary from 1 for the best (labeled FREE), to 7 for the worst (Not Free). I averaged these two ratings for each ME country for each year 1972-2005, and included the latest for 2006 (see above link). I then averaged all the averages for a year, which gave me a measure of the progress of freedom in the ME. The lower the annual average the more democratic freedom in the region.

(The chart of the results available here)

The list of nations whose ratings were averaged is shown on the left. Each dot in the chart is one annual average of all these countries CL and PR ratings. The higher the average the worse off is democratic freedom in the region. As can be seen, there was a growing improvement until 1978, when the growing traditional and jihadist Islamists groups battled authoritarian governments for control over society, and as a result the ME dictatorships hardened their control of politics and human rights. This control reached its height in 1994, when the democratic wave in Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 began to be reflected in the ME. Authoritarianism eased off then. This movement toward greater freedom accelerated with the fear of American action engendered by 9/11, and the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and headed steeply down with the invasion of Iraq in March of the next year, the subsequent effort to democratize the country, and Bush's announced Forward Strategy of Freedom with pressure on these countries to liberalize.

The straight line angling upwards in the chart is a bivariate regression line. It says that the overall tendency in the ME, 1973-2006 was toward greater repression and elimination of civil liberties and political rights. But, then, there is obviously coherent movement around this trend. To determine this, I calculated a 4th degree polynomial regression fit to the points, which clearly shows that there is now a sharp decline in authoritarianism. This has far to go before the region becomes democratic, which would mean an average of slightly more that 2, but it is moving away from an average of 6 or 7, which is totalitarianism at its worst.

What countries account for the improvement from 2001 to 2006? In political rights, it is Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen; in civil liberties, it is Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, political liberties got worse, the only ME country on either scale to get worse.

Since it is not Muslim, Israel was not included. However, for comparison, since 1973, Freedom House has rated it between 1 and 2 on political rights, and 2 and 3 on civil liberties, and for every year it has classified Israel as free—that is, a liberal democracy.

What does the chart say about Bush's impact on democracy in the region? That authoritarianism is retreating could be due to other causes, but what they would be is a question. The Islamic terrorist attack on authoritarian regimes has increased, not lessened, and the only significant countervailing variable seems to be Bush's post 9/11 democratically oriented foreign policy, which has meant pressure on these regimes to begin democratization. And by hypothesis, it is supposed to have an impact. Therefore, given the above chart, I think we can say it does.

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